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Ups/downs in D-FW television's Monday night JFK coverage


Fox4’s Richard Ray reports live Monday night. Photos: Ed Bark

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Are there any new angles anymore as Dallas prepares to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination?

Probably not, but there are many side stories still worth re-telling well. In that context you’re in good hands with D-FW television’s best JFK historian. Without question that’s Fox4 reporter and weekend anchor Richard Ray, now a 30-year veteran at the station.

Three of the market’s four major TV news providers had full-length JFK anniversary pieces on their late night newscasts Monday. NBC5 opted out and went Kennedy free, which in some ways might be considered a public service amid the avalanche of national and local coverage. You make the call.

Ray, doing a live standup from Dealey Plaza on Fox4’s 9 p.m. news, recounted the history of the famed Abraham Zapruder film. He did this at length and in depth. There were no wasted seconds and a number of surprising facts, even for those of us who thought we’d heard and seen it all.

“The most studied home movie ever,” in the words of Sixth Floor Museum curator Gary Mack, had been unseen by the public in the 12 years since Time, Inc. purchased all rights to it from Zapruder. The resultant still pictures, printed in Life magazine, omitted the shocking footage of the President’s head exploding from a third fatal shot. But in 1975, a photo-optics technician named Robert Groden secretly made a bootleg copy of the original “before the film degraded.”

Ray interviewed both Groden and Geraldo Rivera, whose Good Night America program on ABC became the first to show the full Zapruder film after Groden provided it.

Groden since has written 14 books on the assassination and sets up shop “virtually every weekend” at Dealey Plaza, Ray told viewers. The city of Dallas keeps trying to evict him, but Groden keeps winning in court and lately has followed suit by suing the city.

Rivera told Ray of Time’s threatened lawsuits if Good Night America dared to show the Zapruder film. But that never happened. “They kind of lost their nerve, I think, and backed out,” said Rivera, who has come to believe over the years that Lee Harvey Oswald in fact was the lone shooter on the day of Nov. 22, 1963. Groden still believes the opposite. Believe this. Ray knows his way around JFK assassination lore far better than any other current D-FW television reporter.

WFAA8’s assassination story -- “The President and the QB” -- was by sports anchor/reporter Joe Trahan. He interviewed Dallas Cowboys legend Roger Staubach about his ties to JFK during his days as Navy’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

Kennedy, who served in the Navy, met twice with the football team during his presidency, Staubach recalled. “He became pretty close to our team, relatively speaking.”

Staubach wasn’t all that forthcoming on camera, relatively speaking. But the connection is interesting. And Trahan also served up a tasty tidbit on the Nov. 29, 1963 cover of Life magazine. Initial plans called for an action shot of Staubach. But only a handful of such covers were test-printed before that edition of Life became a commemoration of JFK with his picture on the cover instead of Staubach’s.


CBS11’s Joel Thomas theatrically slumps over a pay phone after running up to it to replicate how reporters reacted minutes after shots were fired on the presidential motorcade in Dealey Plaza.

CBS11 reporter Joel Thomas took show-and-tell to the point of absurdity during his story on how television news came of age 50 years ago.

“It is the moment wall to wall coverage was born,” he told viewers. True enough. Unfortunately, Thomas couldn’t resist injecting himself by sprinting to a pay phone in a ham-handed effort to replay what it must have been like for reporters on the scene in Dealey Plaza. Charitably put, he looked ridiculous and will be lucky not to wind up on The Daily Show.

Thomas also interviewed longtime newscast producer John Sparks (in a high school band at the JFK breakfast in Fort Worth that day); former KTVT-TV operations manager Phil Crow and ex-WFAA8 assignments editor Bert Shipp, who deservedly was honored with a career achievement award earlier this month at the Lone Star Emmys.

Bert, whose son, Brett, is a longtime investigative reporter with WFAA8, is not in the best of health these days and has trouble enunciating. Bless him, it happens to most of us. But Thomas, although well-intended in this case, probably should have left Bert out of this particular story, at least in terms of an on-camera interview. It served neither party particularly well.

As the 50th anniversary nears, we’ll try to keep further tabs on how D-FW’s late night newscasts handle the run-up. For his efforts on Monday, Fox4’s Ray gets the biggest thumbs up. His story can be seen here.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net